Once every year, Japan turns into a magical fairyland. It’s cherry blossom season. You’ll know it is just around the corner when suddenly EVERYTHING is cherry blossom related – foods are available in “Sakura” flavor and even beer cans are decorated with prints of white and pink petals. All throughout Japan, both locals and tourist aim to find the most beautiful “Hanami” spots and you’ll find the parks full of people relaxing underneath canopies of cherry blossoms to welcome spring.
When to go?
Well, this is a bit of a tricky one to give an exact answer to. The date of the cherry tree’s full bloom depends on several factors, which is important to keep in mind when planning your trip!
Generally, Hanami season is around springtime, during March and April to be more specific. However, the cherry blossoms can start blooming as early as February in the southern Islands of Japan (e.g. Okinawa), before migrating up north all the way to Hokkaido where they are in full bloom in May. Usually, the blooming period only lasts for about two weeks, so keep an eye on the forecasts! Not only do the trees bloom at different times depending on the place – cold temperatures, rain and wind all can have an effect on the exact blooming times too.
Forecasts are available online all year around, but Japan’s Weather Association releases an official report around February, which I suggest to consult before making fixed plans!
Where to go?
Arashiyama – combine a visit to Arashiyama’s famous bamboo forest with a Hanami in the riverside Nakanoshima Park. To escape the crowds, head to Kameyama-kōen, a park close to the Bamboo Forest. There’s a trail leading up a little hill to a really nice viewpoint over Katsura-gawa river and the Arashiyama Mountains.
City Center – I loved strolling through Kyoto’s city center at nighttime. The Sakura trees are beautifully illuminated, which looks just magical!
Kamo River – The perfect place to escape the crowds during cherry blossom season! I stayed at a hostel a little bit outside of the city center, but how can you mind if the way to the city center is that beautiful?
Of course, there are many more places to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. The Philosopher’s Path is a very popular spot as well, but it was incredibly crowded, so the pictures didn’t turn out as pretty 😉
If you’re looking to escape the crowds, I’d recommend visiting Uji, Japan’s tea capital. It’s only a short ride from Kyoto and much more peaceful + you can stuff yourself with all kind of green tea flavored foods!
Uji river (just outside Keihan Station) – the perfect place for a Hanami!
Minabe Dam, Wakayama
This place is definitely not on the beaten path, but it’s worth going to if you find yourself in Wakayama Prefecture, for example after visiting Shirahama or walking the Kumano Kodo.
Two really nice parks in Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms are Ueno Park & Shinjuku Gyon Park (admission fee: 200 yen).
Know before you go – Practical information
- Do your research before you visit – the cherry blossoms can be seen at different times in different places of Japan.
- Lots of people imagine the cherry blossoms to be pink. Well, I’ll have to disappoint you, the majority is actually white / a very light shade of pink! Still very beautiful though 🙂
- Be prepared to be surrounded by crowds. Cherry blossom season is one of the peak times to travel Japan.
- If you intend to travel around a lot to chase the most beautiful Hanami spots, it might be a good idea to get a JR Railpass. If you are traveling on a budget, I’d recommend to choose only a few spots and to travel long distances by bus. Busses are much slower, but overnight busses can save you extra money on accommodation besides already being cheaper than train travel. You can find more information on bus travel in Japan here.
- Book your accommodation in advance! Cherry blossom season is such a popular time to travel that hostels, guesthouses and hotels are fully booked very quickly.
- Hanami is the Japanese word for “cherry blossom viewing”. How to “Hanami”? Grab yourself a picnic blanket, gather your friends an enjoy food & drinks surrounded by millions of Sakura (cherry blossoms).
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